February 2014

Friday’s Game 2 recap: Mariners 12, Padres 1

Jones_James mugPlayer of the Game: James Jones went 2-for-3 with a home run and four RBIs after replacing Endy Chavez in center field for the final four innings. Jones, 25, laced a line shot over the center field fence for a three-run bomb in the eighth and then added a run-scoring single in the ninth. Jones, a fourth-round Draft pick in 2009, spent most of last year at Double-A Jackson, where he hit .275 with 10 triples, six homers, 45 RBIs and 28 stolen bases in 101 games.

Stat of the Game: The Mariners outhit San Diego 18-5 to win their second straight over the Padres. In the two games, Seattle outscored the Padres 19-2 and outhit them 28-10.

Storyline: Manager Lloyd McClendon went largely with backups after playing most of his regulars in Thursday’s opener, but the key players he did use produced well, as did a host of youngsters in the late going. Shortstop Nick Franklin went 2-for-3 with a home run, DH Corey Hart got his first hit as a Mariner with a single in the fourth and starter James Paxton tossed two perfect innings.

Worth noting: The Mariners started the Cactus League season with two straight wins for the first time since 1994. Their chance for a third straight win Saturday might be up to Mother Nature, however, as the forecast in Phoenix calls for rain most of the day.

Quote of the Day: ““He’s got some tools that are very exciting. I think you’ll probably see a lot of that guy in the very near future.”  –  McClendon on James Jones after his impressive day.

Next: Weather permitting, veteran right-hander Scott Baker gets the start as the Mariners face the Angels in a 12:05 p.m. PT game Saturday at Peoria Stadium. Baker, 32, was 63-48 with a 4.14 ERA for the Twins from 2005-11, but is coming back from Tommy John surgery in 2012 and pitched just three games for the Cubs at the end of last season. He’s got an excellent chance to make the rotation as a non-roster invitee if he pitches well this spring. Baker is scheduled for two innings, with young prospects Bobby LaFromboise, Roenis Elias and Stehen Kohlscheen and James Gillheeney among those to follow.

Here is today’s boxscore.

Here’s my story on Taijuan Walker’s situation as the Mariners top prospect has been shut down from throwing from the next week with a sore shoulder.

You can get all the rest of the news from camp in today’s notebook, including an update on Hisashi Iwakuma’s situation.

And for good measure on a busy day, here’s an interview I did for MLB.com video with Pete McCarthy about Walker, Iwakuma and the Mariners pitching situation.

Iwakuma won’t throw for another three weeks

Iwakuma towel2

More tough news on the Mariners pitching front this afternoon as word now is that right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma won’t be allowed to begin throwing for another three weeks after having his injured finger re-examined Friday in Phoenix.

Iwakuma was examined by hand specialist Dr. Donald Sheridan, about two-and-a-half weeks after reporting to camp with a sprained tendon in the middle finger on his throwing hand.

The Mariners said Sheridan reported the finger was healing well, but he recommended the splint protecting Iwakuma’s injury be left on another three weeks before he begins throwing again. That would leave the 32-year-old only about a week before the start of the regular season.

The Mariners announced earlier in the day that top right-handed prospect Taijuan Walker is being shut down from throwing for a week due to a sore shoulder.

Mariners trainer Rick Griffin said prior to Friday’s doctor visit that Iwakuma has kept himself in good baseball condition by doing everything possible, with the exception of throwing a baseball since he can’t grip a ball with his finger in the splint.

Iwakuma, who finished third in the American League Cy Young voting last year, injured his finger after catching it in netting while doing a pitching drill before Spring Training.

“He’s basically done everything he could do and more, except throw a baseball,” Griffin said. “We’ve simulated a lot of throwing activities. In Japan they do a lot of towel drill exercises. He’s thrown 40-pitch bullpens using a towel, working on his mechanics and balance and follow through. He’s even concentrated on the inner and outer half of the plate.

“He’s done real well with that. He’s been doing all his conditioning, his leg and core work, a lot of shoulder exercises. He’s very bored and wants to play baseball.”

Griffin noted that Iwakuma’s splitter – using a wide grip between his pointer finger and middle digit – puts more strain on the injured tendon.

“He throws a lot of splitters and that opens up that joint and puts a lot of pressure on that tendon, so that’s an additional factor in dealing with this,” he said.

Yes, the games go on

Despite the news of Taijuan Walker being shut down for seven days due to shoulder inflammation, there actually are other things going on in Mariners camp today, including a game today against the Padres at 12:05 p.m. PT.

Manager Lloyd McClendon will go with almost a completely different lineup from yesterday’s opener, the lone exception being Michael Saunders again in right field.

“Ripken who?” Saunders joked this morning.

But his spring streak will end at two games as skipper Lloyd McClendon said Saunders will be off Saturday when the Mariners host the Angels.

Here is today’s full lineup:

Endy Chavez CF
Nick Franklin SS
Ty Kelly 2B
Corey Hart DH
Jesus Montero 1B
Michael Saunders RF
Stefen Romero LF
John Buck C
Willie Bloomquist 3B

James Paxton LHP

Also scheduled to throw today — Ramon Ramirez, Nick Hill, Yoervis Medina, Zach Miner, Carson Smith, Charlie Furbush and Dominic Leone.

You can listen live on 710 ESPN Seattle or Gameday Audio. And since everyone keeps asking, the first TV game on ROOT Sports won’t be until March 12.

Taijuan Walker shut down for a week

TaijuanBulllpenMariners right-hander Taijuan Walker, one of the top young pitching prospects in baseball, will be shut down from throwing for the next seven days after tests revealed inflammation in the bursa in his right shoulder.

Walker, 21, is the No. 6 ranked prospect in baseball this preseason by MLB.com and is expected to challenge for a spot in the Mariners rotation after starting three games for Seattle at the end of last season.

Manager Lloyd McClendon said Walker has been put on anti-inflammatory medications after being re-evaluated by Dr. Neil ElAttrache at the Kerlan Jobe Clinic in Los  Angeles on Thursday. Walker has been held back since the start of Spring Training after arriving at camp with soreness in his shoulder, throwing just a couple bullpen sessions and doing some flat-ground catch in recent days.

“It’s a little bit of a setback, yeah,” said McClendon. “But it is what it is and we just have to continue to move forward.”

Will Walker have time to be ready for the start of the season if all goes well when he’s cleared to throw again in a week?

“I’m not sure,” McClendon said. “That’s my hope, but we’ll see how it goes.”

The Mariners will proceed carefully with the youngster from Yucaipa, Calif., who was the 43rd overall selection in the 2010 Draft, and has since developed into one of the prized young arms in baseball.

“This guy, we’re not just talking about 2014,” McClendon said. “Hopefully we’re talking about the next 15 years. We have to be cautious and we have to be smart. It’s frustrating for him, but I think it’s the best avenue to take. Err on the side of being cautious and continue to move forward with it.”

McClendon believes the issue cropped up from just normal throwing and said there’s no indication of more extensive problems in the shoulder.

“The MRIs were clean and good,” he said. “There’s no structural damage. Everything is fine from that standpoint.”

The Mariners have been without standout right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma since the start of camp due to a sprained tendon in his right middle finger. Iwakuma will see the doctor Friday afternoon for his three-week reevaluation. He was initially expected to miss 4-6 weeks.

With both Iwakuma and Walker up in the air, the Mariners have some rotation openings behind ace Felix Hernandez.

“A lot of opportunities,” McClendon said. “We have a lot of big arms to hopefully take advantage of those opportunities. We’ll see what happens. Like I’ve said, I just they don’t all eliminate themselves. Then we’ve got problems.”

Right-hander Matt Palmer, a non-roster invitee to camp, has also been shut down for a few days with a slight elbow strain. On the good news front, right-hander Brandon Maurer threw well in his first bullpen session Thursday after being held out with a stiff back and appears ready to resume his normal schedule, McClendon said.

Thursday’s Game 1 recap: Mariners 7, Padres 1

Cano, RobinsonPlayer of the Game: Robinson Cano wasted no time making an impression as he laced the first pitch he saw as a Mariner for a single to center. The $240-million man added a walk in the third as he went 1-for-1 with a walk and run scored.

Stat of the Game: Tom Wilhelmsen threw 13 pitches and 10 were strikes in a quick 1-2-3 seventh inning. Wilhelmsen, who struck out one, struggled with his control in the second half last season. Getting the big right-hander squared away would be a big plus for the bullpen.

Storyline: The Mariners got their Cactus League season off on the right foot with the one-sided win as seven pitchers combined to hold San Diego to five hits with seven strikeouts and just two walks. Add in some timely early hitting – including RBI doubles by Justin Smoak and Dustin Ackley – and there wasn’t much not to like about this one.

Worth noting: Abraham Almonte got the start in the leadoff spot and walked twice in three at-bats and also stole a base. Lloyd McClendon likes the speed Almonte offers and will be giving him a good look this spring as a potential starter in the outfield.

Quote of the Day: “I’m not going to lie. It feels a little different. You look around and all you see is different faces. I’m here now and I had in my mind already that I’m a Mariner and I just can’t wait for the season to start so we can go out and do a pretty good job this year.”  –  Cano on making his debut in a new uniform.

Next: Right fielder Corey Hart will make his debut Friday as the Mariners take on the Padres for a second straight day in a 12:05 p.m. PT game at Peoria Stadium. Hart signed a one-year deal as a free agent and figures to be a key figure in Seattle’s plans as he returns from a year-long absence following two knee surgeries. Young southpaw James Paxton starts on the mound, with Matt Palmer, Nick Hill, Zach Miner, Carson Smith, Charlie Furbush and Dominic Leone also slated to throw.

Here is today’s boxscore.

Here’s a feature I wrote on Danny Hultzen’s long trek back from rotator cuff surgery.

And here’s today’s notebook with all the news from Mariners camp.

Mariners waiting on injured pitchers

Iwakuma w-splintWhile the Mariners have considerable depth in their rotation competition this spring, three key arms have been sidelined much of the opening weeks thanks to a sprained finger for Hisashi Iwakuma, a sore shoulder for Taijuan Walker and a stiff back for Brandon Maurer.

Iwakuma will see a doctor on Friday to have his finger reexamined after injuring the tendon in the middle digit of his throwing hand when he caught it in a net while doing drills prior to the start of camp. The initial estimate was that the standout right-hander would be out 4-6 weeks and manager Lloyd McClendon is waiting to see where that stands.

“We’ll keep our fingers crossed, no pun intended,” he said. “It would be great [if he is ahead of schedule], but we’ll just wait and see.”

Walker has been limited to only some initial bullpen work early in camp and then long toss on flat ground in recent days. He’s yet to throw live batting practice and isn’t listed on the first week of pitching probables for Cactus League play.

“He was fine,”  McClendon said after Walker played catch on Wednesday. “He felt pretty good. He’ll throw again and hopefully get on the mound in the next couple days.”

Maurer has also been limited the past six days after his back stiffened up. He played long toss with Walker on Wednesday and also remains on a scaled-back program for now.

“He threw, he felt better,” McClendon said. “Hopefully he’ll continue to progress and we can get him back out there on the mound. He’s a little behind right now, but we’ll get him back out there.”

Here is your Mariners opening lineup

Manager Lloyd McClendon has posted his Cactus League opener lineup and it looks a lot like what could potentially be the Mariners’ regular lineup, minus right fielder Corey Hart at this point.

The Mariners will be careful with Hart early as he returns from a pair of knee surgeries, but he’s been practicing every day and doing well so far. If Hart was in the mix, you figure he’d play right field and Michael Saunders would move to center. But McClendon is going to give a good look at a lot of players this spring, including Abraham Almonte, who is playing center this morning and leading off.

Here’s what we’ve got for today’s 12:05 p.m. game against the Padres, which will be broadcast live on 710 ESPN Seattle.

Abraham Almonte CF
Kyle Seager 3B
Robinson Cano 2B
Logan Morrison DH
Justin Smoak 1B
Michael Saunders RF
Dustin Ackley LF
Brad Miller SS
Mike Zunino C

Erasmo Ramirez RHP

Pictures from Peoria: On eve of Cactus opener

Yup, we’re just about ready to play ball in Peoria as the Mariners face the Padres in the annual charity game to kick off Cactus League play Thursday at 12:05 p.m. PT. Everyone, including Robinson Cano, is ready to get things going, as you can read in my story here on Mariners.com.

And here’s the rest of today’s news from camp in my daily notebook.

Of course, no day would be complete without some photos, so here’s what I caught today:

Cano looked sharp once again in batting practice and then said afterward he’s excited to finally get into game action with his new team.

Cano Robbie

GM Jack Zduriencik confers with manager Lloyd McClendon.
Zduriencik, McClendon

Felix Hernandez threw live batting practice to a couple Minor Leaguers. He’ll have one more bullpen session before making his Cactus League debut on March 4.
Hernandez Felix

One of the Minor Leaguers facing Felix was Gabriel Guererro, the nephew of Vladimir Guerrero.
Guerrero Gabby

McClendon (right) has taken a hands-on approach with all his players, and here is encouraging outfielder Abraham Almonte.
McClendon Almonte

Felix looks strong again, but Walker still going slow

Felix sim

Felix Hernandez threw live batting practice to a couple Minor Leaguers hitters on Wednesday and now will have one more bullpen session before his Cactus League debut next Tuesday as the Mariners continued preparing their ace for his Opening Day start.

But young right-hander Taijuan Walker, the No. 4 ranked prospect in baseball by MLB.com, again was limited to just playing long toss in the outfield as the Mariners are bringing the 21-year-old along very slowly this spring after he arrived in camp with a sore throwing shoulder.

“We’ll see where he is in the next couple days,” manager Lloyd McClendon said. “Hopefully we’ll get him back into bullpens and build him toward getting back on the mound.”

Walker is expected to compete for a starting rotation berth. In fact, McClendon said before camp opened he’d be disappointed if the youngster didn’t earn a starting job. But the clock is starting tick with Cactus League games beginning Thursday and Walker is behind all the other Mariners pitchers in camp except for fellow right-hander Brandon Maurer, who also has been limited to long toss after dealing with a stiff back.

“I wouldn’t say I’m concerned at this particular time,” McClendon said. “Obviously he’s a little bit behind, but I remember when I was in Spring Training in 1990 we had three weeks to get ready. And we got ready in three weeks. So I’m not that concerned as we speak now. I don’t know what’s going to happen in the next week, but we’ll see.”

Maurer played long toss with Walker and said he’s finally back to feeling normal after his back issues, which he believes cropped up after he slept wrong.

“That’s what I’m going with. I don’t have a clue,” Maurer said. “It gets better, then it tightens back up a little, then it gets better. But it hasn’t tightened back up today, so we’re thinking we’re good to go.”

As for Hernandez, he continues to look sharp in the early going. Of course, he was facing Minor League competition on Wednesday and only one well-hit ball – a line drive to left by Gabriel Guerrero, the 20-year-old nephew of Vladimir Guerrero — in what amounted to several innings of situational work.

Guerrero drew an “Atta boy,” from Hernandez after his hit, but otherwise it was a dominant day for the King.

“Felix threw extremely well,” McClendon said. “We’re very pleased with that and will just keep building.”

Catching up with a little news

Sorry for the lack of activity on the blog yesterday. I had Monday and today off, which was a welcome chance to spend some time with my wife who is visiting for a couple days, and recharge the batteries before Cactus League games start Thursday. You can still catch all the Mariners news on Mariners.com, thanks to some excellent backup work by Chris Gabel.

There was a little news out of camp this morning as Lloyd McClendon revealed that third base coach John Stearns underwent surgery on a hiatal hernia and will be sidelined from all baseball activity for 4-6 weeks. That means the club will need to move someone else into that role for the time being and they say that will be an internal move.

An obvious choice would be Darren Brown, who was the third-base coach the last four months last season and is currently working as a roving Minor League coach.

The Mariners will play a five-inning intrasquad game today on their main practice field, with lineups consisting mostly young guys, as well as the two starting shortstop competitors in Brad Miller and Nick Franklin. And, no, jobs won’t be won or lost today, but it will be a chance for some of the players to get their feet wet before Thursday’s Cactus League opener against the Padres.

Visiting team

Brad Miller SS
James Jones CF
Stefen Romero RF
Jesus Montero 1B
Nate Tenbrink 3B
Chris Taylor DH
Ty Kelly 2B
Cole Gillespie LF
Jesus Sucre C
Roenis Elias P

Bullpen: Hector Noesi., James Gilheeney. Logan Bawcom, Jonathan Arias

Home Team

Abraham Almonte CF
James Jones RF
Nick Franklin SS
Ji-Man Choi 1B
Jabari Blash DH
Manny Pina C
Carlos Triunfel 3B
Burt Reynolds RF
Gabriel Noriega 2B
Anthony Fernandez P

Bullpen: Andrew Carraway, Stephen Kohlscheen, Chance Ruffin